Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart defended Butch Jones and his athletic department amid growing criticism in the wake of a federal lawsuit filed against the university Feb. 9 that alleges Title IX violations. Hart spoke just one day after two new plaintiffs were added to the lawsuit, which originally included six unidentified women who allege the university created a "hostile sexual environment" toward women through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student athletes.
An amended complaint filed Wednesday added new details to the original lawsuit, alleging Jones told former player Drae Bowles that he "betrayed the team" and was a "traitor to the team" for helping a woman who said she was raped by two football players in November 2014. The new filing also alleged linebacker/defensive lineman Curt Maggitt punched Bowles in the mouth and bloodied his lip one day before Bowles was confronted by teammates Geraldo Orta and Marlin Lane. Bowles transferred to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2014.
Jones called the allegations "absolutely false" in a statement released Wednesday night and said he did "all I could" to help Bowles.
"The assertion that I ever attempted to belittle or demean a young man for taking action to help another person is absolutely false," the statement read. "During the course of the judicial process, campus officials, as well as the young man's own words, will clearly establish that I have done nothing wrong. I will fight all of these false attacks on my character, and I know that once this process has been completed, my reputation will be restored."
Hart stood in support of Jones on Wednesday and lauded his discipline measures.
“I trust Butch Jones implicitly,” Hart said. “I know who he is. I know his work ethic. I know what he’s meant to this program and what he’s meant to this university. I know how he’s represented this university.”
The lawsuit also alleged Tennessee's system of punishment favored student athletes, a claim Hart denied.
"They are absolutely not treated any differently," Hart said. "Our student athletes are treated just like any member of the student body, and they should be."
Hart opened the press conference by expressing sympathy for victims of sexual assault and made assurances that addressing and preventing them has become the main focus of the university.
"This is simply an unnacceptable act," Hart said. "I can tell you at the University of Tennessee, the chancellor (Jimmy Cheek) has made this a top priority as many, many — and shold be all — universities across the country. This has to gain the attention of everybody."
The lawsuit now includes eight plaintiffs and names four former Tennessee athletes and one unidentified current football player. While Hart said that he was confident all of his coaches have followed correct protocol in sexual assault cases, he did say he was concerned with the number of football players accused of sexual assault in the past two years.
"Obviously we're concerned," Hart said. "I think one is too many. We have 130 football players, and I have an opportunity on a regular basis to interact with them ... We've got a lot of really good people, so I think one is too many
Tennessee's lawyer, Bill Ramsey, released a statement Wednesday saying the university was aware of the new amendment to the lawsuit and stands by its actions.
"The facts, as opposed to allegations in a complaint, will demonstrate that the University acted properly in the matters at issue," the statement read. "We have continuously worked hard to improve our processes and our procedures to ensure that we are doing all that we can to prevent incidents of assault, to support victims of sexual assault and to pursue justice while ensuring due process for those accused. We will vigorously defend all claims in the amended complaint."